Monday, August 22, 2016

Air Force Tries Killing Weeds With Light Beams, Not Pesticides

When you think of military weapons, you tend to imagine things such as bullets and bombs. The Air Force is experimenting with a new tool for its arsenal: a wand that zaps a concentrated beam of light and heat.
No, this isn’t Harry Potter, and the enemies aren’t terrorists. The wand is called NatureZap, and it targets “unwanted vegetation”—aka weeds. Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California is testing the device as a way to remove weeds without the use of toxic herbicides.
The electric device uses a combination of heat and high-energy blue light to kill the plants’ leaves and roots. Treated plants, according to manufacturer Global Neighbor, die in as little as three days. “We’ve had a pretty good success rate,” said Jon Jackson, the company’s president. “We get about a 70 to 80 percent die-back without regrowth.” He said NatureZap is particularly effective on ragweed, dandelions, and crabgrass. The light penetrates about two inches into the soil, so it only affects targeted weeds and not the “good” plants around them.
Global Neighbor has received two rounds of funding, totaling nearly $900,000, from the federal government’s Small Business Innovation Research program to develop and test the NatureZap device.
Danny Reinke, principal scientist for the 412th Civil Engineering Group at Edwards Air Force Base—who developed the device with Global Neighbor—told the Desert Wings newspaper that NatureZap may be useful in meeting the military’s requirements to reduce its use of toxic chemicals under the Sikes Act, which helps protect endangered species on Department of Defense property. He’s testing a battery-powered version of the device that reportedly can treat a softball field–size area between charges.

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